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Digital divide among UK businesses is holding back the economy

According to new research by the CBI and international technology and consulting firm, IBM, a digital divide is opening up across the British Economy. Just over half of “pioneer” firms are adopting digital technologies, while the other half are falling behind.

Business Finance

Despite the UK placing top globally for e-commerce and in fifth for the availability of technology, it only ranks fourteenth in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology, with many companies struggling to digitise their businesses at the rate of peers in other countries.

42% of companies say they are hindered by lack of appropriate skills inside their business, and 33% are unclear on return on investment. Other barriers to digitising cited by companies are a mix of connectivity challenges and security concerns.

However nearly all firms believe that digital technology has the ability to revolutionise the business landscape, so the problem is not a lack of conviction about the potential impact. 94% believe it will drive productivity, growth and job creation, and almost three quarters see its biggest benefit as improved customer satisfaction and experience.

“Businesses globally are in the throes of an extraordinary digital revolution that is transforming productivity and creating a new generation of winning companies. But in the UK, too many firms are being left behind.  While pioneering firms are seizing digital opportunities, nearly half are struggling – a growing digital divide that is threatening UK competitiveness.” said Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General.

“It’s vital that businesses in all sectors – from manufacturing to retail – truly understand digital technology’s potential, from the boardroom to the shop or factory floor. Giving digital a human face by appointing a Chief Technology Officer will help businesses build the long-term digital strategies that will be critical to their futures.”

This research also found that more than a quarter of pioneer firms have already invested in advanced artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies over the past year – only 9% of businesses on the other side have done so, but 16% plan to do so in the next year.

David Stokes, Chief Executive of IBM UK and Ireland, said: “The ground is shifting beneath the feet of today’s business leaders, as digital sweeps every aspect of modern enterprise.

“It has left no industry or business untouched and presents huge opportunities for us all to work in innovative and more effective ways.

“As one of the leading digital economies in the world we now find ourselves with the challenge of how to sustain and grow our position and this is an opportunity that we should be hugely excited to face.”

The CBI also wants to see businesses working more closely with each other and sharing ideas. For example, more digitally advanced and proficient firms could run digital clinics and offer coaching for those companies struggling to get started.

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